Auctions | October 14, 2014

Unpublished Archive of Amateur Victorian Photographer at Bonhams

An archive of over 350 unpublished images by the Victorian amateur photographer Emma Francis Johnston is to be sold at Bonhams sale of Fine Books, Atlases, Manuscripts and Photographs in London on 12 November. It is estimated at £10,000-15,000.

Emma Johnston is one of the lost figures of 19th century photography. Very little is known about her. She came from a comfortable middle class Hampstead family—her father was a solicitor—and remained unmarried.  Other than that, the texture of her life can be best understood through her photographs which cover the years 1858-1864 and document the activities of her immediate circle and the many visitors to the family home, Manor House.

The roll call of sitters provides a vivid insight into 19th century intellectual suburban life, (Hampstead did not become part of the County of London until 1889 although it had a good railway connection to the Capital via the North London Railway from the 1860s). William Wardell, the architect of St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney and St Patrick’s in Melbourne; Frederick Edwards the geologist-palaeontologist; George Waterhouse curator at London Zoo, are just some of the figures who people Emma’s photographs together with painters, diplomats and artists models—even Juno the dog gets a walk on part. 

Bonhams Head of Books, Mathew Haley said: “Emma Johnston stands in a great tradition of Victorian women photographers. Unlike her famous contemporaries, Lady Hawarden, admired for her technical and artistic achievements and Julia Margaret Cameron, who gained recognition for her celebrity portraits, Emma was chiefly concerned with the daily round of her own social circle which may explain why this most  talented of amateurs has been unjustly neglected.”